Victoria’s solar industry has been promised less “solar-coaster,” and more consumer protection, after the appointment of a new head for the body tasked with overseeing the state government’s rooftop solar and battery storage subsidy schemes.
State energy minister Lily D’Ambrosio announced on Wednesday that former Sustainability Victoria CEO Stan Krpan had been appointed as the inaugural CEO for Solar Victoria, to lead the implementation of the Solar Homes rebate, which kicks in in earnest in July.
The appointment comes amid criticism of the scheme from Victoria’s solar industry, after it was temporarily closed at the start of April when the program was flooded with more than 30,000 applications for subsidised solar.
As we have reported, provisions were made for 24,000 rebates to cover the interim period from when the scheme was soft-launched last August, to when it officially opens in July, to ensure the industry didn’t come to a complete halt in the meantime.
However, this provisional amount was “easily exceeded” well ahead of July, and solar installers say the nearly three-month hiatus has created precisely the kind of industry lull the government had been trying to avoid.
And as we reported here just last week, the latest data on rooftop solar installations around the country is beginning to reflect these claims.
With a little over a month to go until applications for the rebate re-open – along with rebates for solar hot water, battery storage systems, and a no-interest loan offer – the new CEO will have some reassuring to do.
But Krpan, who in his former role at Sustainability Victoria helped to design the Solar Homes scheme, and set up Solar Victoria, is confident the way forward will be smoother, for both industry and consumers.
“The Solar Homes scheme is about to get much bigger and much better. And I don’t want to watch it from the sidelines,” he told One Step on Wednesday.
On the consumer side of the equation, Solar Victoria has re-opened applications to around 600 households found to have had solar installed “in good faith”, but without realising – or having been incorrectly advised by their retailer – that they were supposed to apply for the rebate first.
These 600 cases have up unit June 14 to get their applications in.
To prevent such confusion in the future, the design of the scheme – from July – will change from a cash-back approach, to a strict point-of-sale model, where households will need a “validated” token before they can go ahead with the installation.
“We know there is a handful [of installers] who were actively encouraging customers to install without determining eligibility and that meant they were at risk of not getting their rebate,” Krpan said.
“Let me be really clear, you must have a token confirming your eligibility or we will not pay rebates; it’s not a cash-back system,” he said.
On the industry side, Krpan says that measures to pace the rate of installations under the scheme – which will be detailed over coming weeks – will be introduced by Solar Victoria. This will aim to ensure that there is less stop-start disruption for solar retailers and installers, and a more manageable uptake of solar for network operators.
“We’ve been working really closely with the Clean Energy Council and the Smart Energy Council on how best to manage demand and supply,” Krpan told One Step.
“One of the advantages of hosting this scheme in the Department of Environment is that we’re also involved in developing the grid and transforming it for the future,” he added.
“(Industry) have been heavily involved in the design of the scheme, and we continue to work closely with them so that their interests and concerns are represented.”
Krpan has also promised that Solar Victoria – which is head-quartered in the state’s former coal centre of Latrobe Valley – will continue to be vigilant about weeding out “cowboy” operators, attracted to the industry by the rebate.
Back in October last year, Solar Victoria enlisted the help of Consumer Affairs Victoria to combat high-pressure sales tactics, inaccurate marketing and poor service as the scheme gathered momentum in the state.
Other regulators, including WorkSafe, Energy Safe and the Victorian Building Authority, were also asked by Solar Victoria to increase their focus on safety and enforcing “long standing OHS and electrical safety requirements.”
For her part, minister D’Ambrosio appears to have great confidence in the abilities of Krpan, who she described as an experienced chief executive with “an outstanding track record” for delivering energy, waste and sustainability programs.
“Mr Krpan has a strong record in this sector and the right experience to lead the delivery of our landmark Solar Homes package,” she said in comments on Wednesday.
“We’re putting power back into the hands of Victorians putting a power station on their roof to drive down energy costs, boost supply and fight climate change.”